Saudi Arabia has concluded its first full cruise season during the winter months between November and April, 2022, with 66% of passengers sourced locally.
The six-month cruise season out Saudi Arabia closed this week when MSC Bellissima departed Jeddah bound for Dubai, where she will commence her first summer season in the Arabian Gulf.
While MSC Bellissima has homeported in Dubai previously during the winter months, this is the cruise line’s first time sailing roundtrip in the Middle East during the summer.
During the past six months, some 30,000 cruise passengers have sailed to or from Saudi Arabia, most of them aboard MSC Cruises out of Jeddah.
Around a third of the passengers have been international guests, representing more than 80 nationalities, according to Cruise Saudi, the tourism agency tasked with growing the country’s nascent cruise tourism sector.
Saudi Arabia opened up to cruise lines just before the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, and plans to operate its first-ever cruise season out of Jeddah were delayed until 2021, when MSC became the first cruise line to homeport in the country.
MSC had planned to deploy MSC Magnifica to Jeddah for the 2021/22 season between March and November, but instead the larger and newer MSC Bellissima was repositioned from Dubai due to higher than anticipated demand.
A majority of the passengers aboard MSC Cruises’ inaugural season in Saudi Arabia have been domestically-sourced, largely as a result of the cruise line’s efforts to tailor the onboard cruise experience to the local Saudi market.
MSC Bellissima sailed 3-, 4-, and 7-night itineraries out of Jeddah, visiting ports of call in Jordan and along Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coastline, giving passengers access to two of Saudi’s six UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Hegra in AlUla and Historic Jeddah, the Gateway to Makkah.
Cruise Saudi brought three cruise ports online for the season (Jeddah, King Abdullah Economic City and Yanbu), equipped them with the necessary infrastructure and facilities to welcome cruise lines and passengers.
While MSC Bellissima was the centrepiece of the most recent Saudi Arabian cruise season, the country also welcomed several other cruise lines and ships marking their maiden port calls in Jeddah.
Scenic Group, Viking and Silversea all featured Jeddah and other Saudi Arabian ports on thsi itineraries for the first time, sailing a combined total of 70 cruises around Saudi waters.
“The successes achieved in such a short span of time, from developing the necessary infrastructure for the cruise industry to partnering with government entities and international cruise lines and welcoming passengers from all across the world, have left us humbled,” said Lars Clasen, CEO, Cruise Saudi.
“Cruise Saudi’s aim is to catalyze the development of the local cruise industry by promoting Saudi as a premier cruising destination and establishing the sector as a new pillar to Saudi’s growing tourism industry in line with the Saudi leadership’s transformation blueprint – and this is just the beginning for us,” he added.
Cruise Saudi aims to welcome 1.3 million cruise passengers annually by 2035, establishing the Red Sea and Saudi as a cruising hub as part of the country’s goal to attract 100 million local and international visits by 2030.